Back to the future

Today is the fifty-seventh anniversary of the Soviet launching of Sputnik I, an event which traumatized America has few things in modern times other than Pearl Harbor, political assassinations, and 9/11 have managed to do. Not only our international prestige but our self-esteem took a hit it from which it took us more than a decade to recover. Suddenly we found ourselves second to the Soviets- of all nations!- in scientific achievement and space exploration.

And it's happening again. Once more, we've been left behind in the exploration of space by not only Russia but even China, and further traumas are in the offing.

To his credit, President Obama has approved a proposal to contract with private industry to develop an American space vehicle capable of taking astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Since the end of the space shuttle program, we've had to hitch our rides with the Russians on board their Soyuz vehicle.

Meanwhile the Chinese are aggressively pursuing a manned space program, and at this point it is difficult to see how we can avoid facing another "Sputnik day" some time in the near future, as the Chinese flag is planted on the moon- a celestial body we no longer have the capabilty of reaching.

The Apollo moon program generated jobs and stimulated the economy as few things have ever done. Mr. Obama was wrong to cancel the Constellation program to develop a vehicle and booster to take us back to the moon, and afterward to Mars.

That program needs to be reinstated as soon as possible. Hopefully if Mr. Obama doesn't get a clue, his successor will.

It may be too late to avoid having the Chinese be the ones to exploit the resources of the moon (including vast supplies of  hydrogen-3, a single square foot of which could theoretically meet the nation's energy needs for a year). But maybe it may still be possible to avoid another and even more traumatic "Sputnik day," when the Chinese are the first to land on Mars.